Premier Daniel Andrews hopes Victoria’s fifth lockdown is “short” and “sharp” but cannot guarantee it will only last five days.
More than six million Victorians again found themselves living under stay-at-home orders from just before midnight on Thursday to curb a growing outbreak of the COVID-19 Delta variant.
The same rules that applied during last month’s lockdown have been reimposed, including a 5km travel limit for exercise and shopping and compulsory masks indoors and outdoors.
Mr Andrews said the state’s contact tracers were moving faster than ever but haven’t been able to keep up with the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant.
“We’ve got no choice. We don’t want this getting away from us and being locked down for months,” he told reporters.
Despite describing it as a “short, sharp” lockdown, the premier would not rule out extending the shutdown beyond 11.59pm on Tuesday.
“It may be longer because it depends on what every Victorian does,” Mr Andrews said, adding some parts of regional Victoria could be freed earlier if it is deemed safe.
Several hundred people gathered outside Flinders Street Station on Thursday night to protest the latest lockdown, listening to speeches and chanting “sack Dan Andrews”.
A flare was lit as they marched to parliament. Police confirmed no arrests were made.
It came after Victoria recorded two additional locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Thursday afternoon, taking the number of community cases associated with the separate Sydney-linked outbreaks to 18.
Most of the cases are connected to NSW removalists who breached their worker permit conditions and spread the virus during a drop-off at the Ariele Apartments in Maribyrnong late last week.
A Victoria Police spokesman told AAP it was helping to establish the three-person crew’s movements as part of a health department investigation.
Mr Andrews would not be drawn on whether Victoria’s lockdown could have been avoided if Sydney had locked down sooner.
“I can’t control what happens and doesn’t happen in NSW,” he said.
“These cases started in NSW, but I’m determined they will end here.”
The final straw for authorities was three cases of suspected “stranger-to-stranger transmission” at an AFL match between Carlton and Geelong at the MCG on Saturday.
A positive case also attended the international rugby clash between the Wallabies and France at AAMI Park on Tuesday night, with stadium management working with health officials to identify close contacts.
There are more than 110 exposures sites dotted across Melbourne and regional Victoria, including the MCG and several stores at Chadstone shopping centre.
Meanwhile, the state government has flagged it could announce a lockdown business support package as early as Friday.
The federal government said on Thursday night it would provide income support through the COVID-19 Disaster Payment scheme for people who work or live in Greater Melbourne, Moorabool Shire, City of Greater Geelong, Borough of Queenscliffe and Surf Coast Shire – areas declared COVID-19 Hotspots for the purposes of Commonwealth support.